Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Redemption is Coming

Aside from the fact that I was presenting, I thought we had a good start to the Theological Research Seminar yesterday. Dr. Lennox is up next week with "Disabilities in Ancient Egypt." I presented what was intended to be the second of four chapters tracing what I'm calling afterlife trajectories within Second Temple Judaism.

But to the post at hand...
Romans 8 is truly a climax of the book thus far. The first four chapters present the problem of God's coming wrath on all humanity coupled with the solution of faith in what God has done through Jesus Christ. The first part of the fifth chapter thus celebrates justification and peace with God on the basis of faith and the blood of Jesus. The last part of Romans 5 and chapters 6-7 then step back again and look at the human condition from another vantage point. We used to be enslaved to sin and the Jewish Law only unveiled our helpless state. Who will free us from our bodies enslaved to sin, Romans 7 ends. Thanks be to God, Paul exclaims, through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 8 thus begins as Romans 5 with the glorious situation the believer finds herself in. We are freed from the condemnation of the Jewish Law and the "law" of sin and death. The "law" of the Spirit has set you free from the "law" of sin and death. The Jewish Law was of course not able to accomplish this feat, as Paul has just cataloged in Romans 7. The weakness of our human flesh was unable to keep the Law, even in its essence. But God sent Jesus in human flesh, flesh that was like ours only not under the power of Sin. And Christ's blameless sin offering put an end to sinfulness.

The result is that we are now able to walk in newness of life (cf. Rom. 6:4). We who walk, not according to the power of Sin over our flesh but according to the power of the Spirit are actually now able to meet the righteous requirement of the Jewish Law. For us Gentiles, we now demonstrate the work of the Law written on our hearts and do the things of the Law (Rom. 2:14-15). Again, Paul does not refer here to the same part of the Law that he elsewhere argues believers do not need to keep (e.g., Gal. 4:10, 21). He does not mean Jew-specific things like circumcision but the essence of the Law, Christ's Law (cf. 1 Cor. 9:21).

The long and short of it for Paul is that those who are "in the flesh" cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). The flesh--our skin under the power of Sin--is not able to do the good we want to do (8:7), as Paul has vividly acted out in Romans 7. The flesh is hostile toward God. The only way to please God is thus to get out of our flesh by getting "in the Spirit" (8:9). If we live according to the flesh, our destiny is eternal death (8:12-13). The only path to life is to put to death the deeds of the flesh and be led by the Spirit. This entire argument is thoroughly oriented around living, around "walking." Paul is not giving some abstract, sophisticated fiction about living sinful while being considered legally righteous. The wording is about how we live and what we do in this life.

The secret is the Spirit. If someone does not have the Holy Spirit, Paul says, they are not even a Christian (8:9). The Spirit inside us brings "death" to our sinful bodies and we are deemed "righteous," "justified" by God (8:10). We are buried with Christ in baptism and die with him (6:4). The miracle is that then we not only are deemed righteous by God "legally" but the Spirit then actually "raises"our mortal bodies so that we can actually live righteously (8:11). We rise with Christ so that we can walk in newness of life (6:4)...


Anonymous said...

Pardon my completely off-topic question, but I am curious about something in regards to the Wesleyan Church that I hope you can answer. What is their position (official or otherwise) on pastors who have never been married? Is this accepted or strongly discouraged like most evangelical denominations?

Ken Schenck said...

No official position. I'm not sure I could tell you any unofficial position. I could try at hunches. I have a hunch the vast majority of churches would prefer a pastor who is married. But I imagine there are a lot of small churches who would gladly accept someone to love them.